Super Mario 3D World was a majestic game, and one that boasted some incredibly high quality level design that, combined with the HD-visuals we’ve gotten accustomed to, was one of the Wii U’s finest. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is exactly what you’d imagine – the wonderful Toad mini-games that were far too few in Mario World, with enough tweaks to make a game of its own, and what a lovely little game it is. That Treasure Tracker has heart would be half-true, because the full game offers some of the very best in impeccable design and casual charm.
Treasure Tracker is essentially a puzzle-platformer at heart starring none other than Captain Toad and Toadette as the playable characters, but employs camera controls to hide the solutions. You’ll have to use the motion controls built into the Wii U’s GamePad (or just the right analog stick, as I did) to move the camera around at length, revealing hidden gems secreted about the fifty-plus levels. Annoyingly, there’s no option to turn off the gyro controls, which causes minor frustration at times.
Structurally, it’s slightly odd, as there are three books you play through, made up of individual levels and short playable vignettes that progress the story. Analogous to Mario’s nonstop tale of woe, Captain Toad and Toadette are adventuring to find stars, whereupon Toadette is captured by a humongous bird that nabs the star, and her with it. Book two switches the tale on its head, with Toad being the captive, and the third book is a more expansive set of levels, where the difficulty raises and you share equal time playing as either character.
As it borrows so heavily from the game it was born from, power-ups from 3D World also appear. Cherries to double, triple, or quadruple up Toad for certain levels and required puzzle solving, are one notable inclusion. Thankfully, the fabled Nintendo level design is in action again, and while Treasure Tracker has a very slow start, there are enough clever moments spaced out through the three books that make up the story to maintain forward momentum, and thoroughly compel you to complete the game. A casino pinball machine and a haunted mansion abode are among the game’s most enticing environments.
Several of the boss levels – including, but not limited to several battles with a giant avian foe – are some of the best levels the series has had to offer in recent. Despite their repetition, each of them offers an appreciated complexity with each iteration, though I could do without their unwavering obedience to the “three hits to defeat the boss” rule. How Nintendo manage to make the same cut-scene make me smile three times, only they know. Treasure Tracker is no long game by any means, and you’ll comfortably barrel through the core levels in under six hours. Going back in to complete additional objectives and gather the gems you missed the first time around to unlock further bonus levels.
That said, it’s not a difficult campaign, nor is it an unpredictable one. To say that the game is genius would be a bit much; levels oftentimes require two or three play-throughs to find everything, but not much more. Most act like oversized Rubix cubes, having to be looked over several times to get the right perspective. Short of an infernal block puzzle of Toadette’s and a clone level of Captain Toad’s, the vast majority are beatable in five to ten minute spurts, a necessary evil that I admit keep things fast-paced.
As you progress there will be levels gated-off that require you to unlock them after collecting a set amount of gems. Only the final few levels required me to go back and grab a few, though – and I’d say about three levels posed a real difficulty. Instead, the completionist appears to be at the forefront of the developer’s minds and that’s exactly who you’ll find yourself becoming by its end. Each single level has the same guidelines laid out to finish it: find your way to the end of the level and grab the star. Along the way you’ll also collect up to three hidden gems (and of course, you can grab coins for extra lives), but there’s also a secondary objective on every level. These vary from simply finding a golden mushroom, to grabbing a set amount of coins.
There are also level-specific challenges. You might be running through a level where Shy Guys are your main foe, and the bonus objective will be to get through that course without alerting one of them. These bonus objectives only really serve to unlock more bonus levels, adding longevity to the game itself. Outside of the three story book campaigns, there’s a bonus book which offers up some levels from Super Mario 3D World that you can play through as Toad. It’s an odd choice, because Toad (and Toadette) can’t jump, so there are ladders added to the levels. Removing the element of 3D World that was so fundamental to the game (the platforming) means that you are just walking carefully (and slowly) through them, and honestly, it’s just not much fun to do so.
The very best things can come from small packages and Treasure Tracker embodies such adages, its head held high. While it may not be everything for everyone, it certainly does enough in the lovable time it offers. If you’ve got any leftover Christmas money, this might be just the game to spend it on. It’s as gorgeous of a game as you’d expect from the Wii U’s HD capabilities and for it’s entire run-time, it’s quite fun, delivering the thoughtful design and casual charms that it seems only Nintendo’s capable of providing. In essence, there’s nothing larger than life about Treasure Tracker. Between its impeccably perky score or the delighted grin perpetually plastered on Toad’s face, it’s the little things that Treasure Tracker excels in, and for a variety of players, that’s sure to be enough.